Sunday, September 30, 2018
The Patient in Room 18 and Mystery House (1938)
Finally I reach the last two films on the classic Hollywood mystery set I've been chipping away at for the past year or so. Having covered such 'gems' as Sh! the Octopus and The Smiling Ghost, and such gems as The Hidden Hand and Find the Blackmailer, I now reach The Patient in Room 18, and Mystery House...
The Patient in Room 18
Noted detective Lance O'Leary has undergone one of the few failures in his otherwise impeccable and illustrious career, and with his sense of self-worth shattered, his doctor recommends him a stay at a rest home. The relative peace there however is shattered when a wealthy new patient is murdered, over a supply of expensive radium he had for medical treatment. Together with the nurse Sarah Keate, O'Leary must uncover the killer before another death occurs...
The Patient in Room 18 is a disappointing film. Bit of an issue is how the movie spends so much time building up O'Leary that by the time we get to the main story, it all starts feeling a bit much. Too many characters to keep track of, not helped by them all looking pretty interchangeable, and all Doctors or nurses to boot, often with similar hairstyles.
Whodunnits with large body counts are usually disappointing in the respect that the suspect pool thins with each new murder. Patient in Room 18 has such a bodycount, but that's a moot point since we see who the killer is the moment he commits the deed! For the life of me though I had no idea who I was looking at. It's also a bit of a cheat that O'Leary's big clue to finding out who the murderer is a witness, rather than clues he's discovered himself. O'Leary's skills rarely contribute to the discovery of new information (often they're found by other people, like the manservant Higgins or Keate), and there's very little actual investigation into any of the murder victims. The leads just sort of bum around until they stumble upon new things.
The round-up and reveal is very confusing and contains many conveniences, but one thing I did find pretty hilarious was the fate of the murderer. I guess that's one thing this has in common with The Wayne Murder Case. Neither are that great showcases of their genre, but boy do they have satisfying death scenes for the villains!
The biggest crime is this movie is that it's just rather dull. It's not bad, entertainingly so or otherwise, but it's all so perfunctory.
As far as characters go, Lance O'Leary is certainly interesting, but the film paints a pretty glum picture of him, if he's prone to legitimate nervous breakdowns after a single unsolved case! We less want him to solve this current mystery and more to see him leave it to the professionals, because he's clearly not mentally fit for this line of work! If one failure was enough to drive him into mania, then I hate to see where he'll end up!
Nurse Sarah Keate is your typical 'take-no-guff' 1940s woman, and is much more enjoyable, getting in a few snappy lines here and there, like when the police detective was talking with her. "Now listen, lady"-"Keate is the name!".
One very interesting scene is when Lance is trying to smoke and his gruff nurse beau tears it from his mouth, because "They're not good for you!". Wow, nice to see a film from 1937 acknowledge that smoking is bad! You go, guys, and for that reason alone I'm more forgiving of this movie for its flaws.
Another quite impressive scene was a scene shot all in one take, when the other nurse is trying to move some flowers and keeps getting interrupted by others.
The acting's pretty ok. Some characters are more annoying than others, but there's nothing that wrong with the performances. I wasn't much of a fan of Patric Knowles as the lead detective, but I liked Ann Sheridan!
Overall, The Patient in Room 18 is a bit of a snooze, but it's not an awful way to spend an evening. Just not a particularly striking example of the 30s/40s detective boom...
22:08, 32:18ish, 36:31,
As with all the other films on set I was going to cover Mystery House separately, but as it turns out this film is another Lance O'Leary vehicle! Man, it's a good thing I realised this was a sequel before posting my review for Patient in Room 18! It's also lucky I chose to discuss Patient first, deeming Mystery House to be a broad enough title that it should be covered last.
Businessman Hubert Kingery gathers all of his board members together at his secluded hunting lodge one night to bring up the matter of extensive theft that could lead to the company's downfall. Before he can go further with is accusations, Kingery goes to his room and is shot dead. Since the door was locked and the windows were barred, his death is believed to be suicide, but his daughter Gwen suspects differently, and asks the household's nurse Sarah Keate if she knows any good detectives...
The plot to Mystery House is more of the same when compared to its predecessor, not because the plot's that similar, but because the bodies keep dropping the floor and thinning out the suspect list! At least the location is smaller and the suspects easier to tell apart this time around. There are also enough suspects remaining even when as many as three people are dead.
The mystery s ok. The solution to the locked room dilemma is certainly clever and reasonably plausible enough, but there's no way for the audience to work it out. There's zero way for the viewer to work out the motive either. For all their sniping at each-other, we don't really know much of anything about the suspects, and why they'd want to commit all these murders beyond the basic reason of vague criminality.
The climax is pretty good, with some neat stuntwork taking place! These poor actors look like they took a bruising for their art! And for course, who should come to the rescue but the amazing German Shepherd!
Mystery House is not a good film to watch on a cold day, because you can feel the chilliness emanating from the screen! The snowed-in setting is quite effective
Lance O'Leary is played by Dick Purcell now instead of Patric Knowles, and acts completely differently. He's not exactly serious, but he's a bit more mature and less insufferable than Knowles' take on the character, which is a relief. Ann Sheridan returns as Sarah Keate, and feels like an anchor tying the two films together.
The rest of the acting is decent. Present is a bad Irish accent, while another sounds like Jimmy Stewart. There are a few other familiar faces here, such as Anthony Averill, Hugh O'Connell, Sheila Bromley, and even Elspeth Dudgeon from Sh! The Octopus, of this very DVD set!
One last note to discuss is the true protagonist of these stories. Upon reading I discovered that not only is Mignon a girl's name, but also that Nurse Sarah Keate herself is apparently the protagonist of Eberhardt's books! That's what sources say, but I think Lance O'Leary is still a character in them, so I'm not sure what to think.
The Patient in Room 18 doesn't come highly recommended from me, but Mystery House fares a bit better. I suppose the best course of action may be to find the books, as they might bear the highest quality. Still, 1930s and 40s mystery cinema always had at least a little something to offer...